Mulling over millennials

Published in FSD Update

Food and beverage product development company, CCD Innovation, has compiled findings from a recent study on Gen Y college students, which the company presented at the Research Chefs Association Annual Expo in March. “We feel this is an extremely influential group,” says Marc Halperin, founder and culinary director of CCD Innovation. “They’re unique because of their social and technological and dining habits. They’re going to have a huge effect on dining in the future and so we wanted to understand what they were eating and why.”

Among a variety of findings, Halperin identified the following as the top five things to know about the eating habits of millennials:

1. They’re nutritionally savvy. “This cohort is so much more vastly knowledgeable about nutrition than frankly [we] ever really imagined,” Halperin says. “We found that these people are very, very knowledgeable. They know what food nutrients do, they know which ones should be avoided and basically how to construct a fairly balanced eating plan for themselves.”

2. They want flavor. “That can be expressed in a lot of different ways,” Halperin explains. “That could be spice—literally heat. It could be expressed as boldness, in other words, in the intensity of the delivery. That [intensity] can be achieved through a mash-up [where] you take one flavor system and you mix it with another flavor system. Now you’ve got a new flavor system, but that new system is highly, highly flavorful, where you can taste an individual ingredient [but] the combination is delivering a unified flavor. But it’s also a multi-layered complexity. Non-American cuisines are far more facile in delivering that kind of high flavor and that’s why there’s an interest in a lot of ethnic [food] groups.”

3. They still connect with comfort. “Not all of the food experience that these kids want is a new experience; they yearn and they cherish comfort food. It’s an extremely stressful time in their lives,” he says. But Halperin is quick to point out that there’s “a new definition of comfort food, and for them it means things like curries and pho [and] Vietnamese comfort food. [It’s] not spaghetti, it’s ramen. It’s not linguini, it’s rice noodles. There is an evolution of the definition of comfort food that has some of the characteristics of the traditional but there are huge twists.”

4. More of them are vegetarian or flexitarian. “There’s just a growing number of vegetarians and flexitarians for a variety of reasons and what we’re also finding is that the foodservices in and off campus are absolutely responding to that,” Halperin says. “These don’t seem to be militant vegetarians or flexitarians. They’re just kids who have found they prefer eating vegetarian for a variety of reasons … and then the flexitarian is being catered to far more gently. It’s not in their face that they’re going to be eating non-meat proteins, but there are many available options that are soft vegetarian.”

5. They are socially conscious. “The interest in local, organic and sustainable plays far more important than it has in the past,” Halperin says. “And these kids are very, very serious about it. It’s not just fad, a passing fad, and then after they graduate college they’re going to get serious. We really believe this consciousness is going to follow them throughout their lives. Therefore there’s going to be an effect on what they eat and what they search out.”